A Witness’s Strange Day at the Trump Grand Jury in Georgia

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By Usa Express Daily

“It’s a little weird,” George Chidi told me on Monday, hours before he headed into the Fulton County Courthouse—a day earlier than he’d been expecting—to offer witness testimony to a grand jury weighing election-interference charges against Donald Trump. “I’m uncomfortable, but I’m doing it.” Chidi is a journalist who has written over the years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Guardian, and the Intercept, and has a modest but devoted following on Substack. Now fifty, he has lived for the past two decades in the Atlanta area, where he’s earned a reputation as a dogged reporter with a broad understanding of complex systems and an eye for meaningful details that a lesser reporter might miss.

It was one such detail that drew him into the story of Trump’s alleged attempt to interfere in the 2020 Presidential election. On December 14, 2020, electors met in each state to vote on paper for President and Vice-President. Just after midnight, Trump had angrily tweeted, once again, at Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp: “What a fool Governor @BrianKempGA of Georgia is. Could have been so easy, but now we have to do it the hard way. Demand this clown call a Special Session.” It seemed, perhaps, like a call to arms.

“There was all of this online chatter about disrupting the elector votes,” Chidi recalled. Much of the talk centered on supposed plans in other swing states—Arizona, Pennsylvania—but Chidi knew Georgia would likely see much of the same. “I thought the Proud Boys were going to come through,” he told me. “They’d been all over the capitol grounds for weeks.” He added, “I also thought there could be some weird elector stuff.”

The night before, Chidi had pulled up a list of Georgia’s official Republican electors—which included a young rising star named C. J. Pearson, whom Chidi had spoken to in the past. He told me he saw Pearson walk into the capitol that day. “I thought he might be there for the pomp and circumstance of it all,” Chidi said. “Only he doesn’t make eye contact with me. He just goes into Room 216,” an office on the second floor. “I’m, like, Holy shit, you guys are gonna pull something.” (Pearson had been the first named plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Sidney Powell, one of Trump’s former lawyers, alleging “ballot-stuffing” in the Presidential election in Georgia. Pearson had recently moved to Alabama for college, and so was no longer eligible to be an elector, and was ultimately replaced. “I don’t want to imply that he broke the law,” Chidi told me.)

Chidi followed him into the room, taking out his phone and going live on Facebook as he did so. “If somebody snatches my cell phone, at least the recording is out there,” he told me, explaining his thought process. “So I walk in. ‘Hi, I’m Georgie Chidi. I’m a journalist. What are you doing?’ Someone says, ‘We’re having a meeting.’ Another person: ‘Oh, he’s got a camera!’ Somebody starts hustling me out of the room. I think about making a stink, but decide against it.” He went on, “As I’m getting swept off the stage, I’m, like, ‘What kind of meeting?’ A woman answers that it’s an ‘education meeting.’ ” Chidi is reasonably certain, he told me, that the person who said this was Cathy Latham, the chairwoman of the Coffee County Republican Party, who was eventually implicated in a scheme to breach an electronic voting machine, allegedly at the behest of Powell, who was Trump’s lawyer at the time. (The Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein also noticed Republican electors in the room and was also told it was an “education meeting.”)

After Chidi was hustled out of the room, he said, “They closed the door and posted a guy outside.” Chidi called his editor at the Intercept. “I’m, like, ‘They’re doing a thing! The Republicans are here and they’re going to try to do a set of electors, too!’ My editor is, like, ‘That’s interesting, monitor it.’ They didn’t want a story. I’m, like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me! I have a scoop!’ ”

Other journalists eventually began waiting outside Room 216, too. An hour or so later, David Shafer, the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, stepped out of the room and into the hall. “He says, ‘We’re gonna submit our slate of electors as well,’ ” Chidi recalled. “ ‘There’s a precedent. We’re doing this to preserve our legal challenge, and, if we don’t, the court will moot our legal challenge because we didn’t have electors to present.’ That was his argument.” (Lawyers for Shafer insisted that the meeting was public and have maintained that what he did “as a presidential elector nominee or contingent elector in 2020 was specifically undertaken in conformity with and reliance upon the repeated and detailed advice of legal counsel.”) Camerapeople were allowed in the room to record the signing of documents, which asserted, falsely, that the people in Room 216 were Georgia’s “duly elected and qualified electors.” “Meanwhile,” Chidi said, “there are a bunch of folks who are supposed to be Republican electors who are, like, ‘Nah, I ain’t doing that.’ ” He described the situation as “basically playing pickup basketball and finding some folks at the last minute to stand in for the starters.”

I asked Chidi what he thought Fulton County’s district attorney, Fani Willis, might be interested in from his testimony. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I think it’s because one of the electors”—the one he thinks was Cathy Latham—“told me something that wasn’t true, and then the group of them kept me from observing and photographing what they were doing. It was a sign they knew what they were doing is wrong.” He added, “Why do it behind closed doors?”

Chidi was first called before the special-purpose grand jury in Fulton County last summer, when Willis was building the case that she was expected to present to a second grand jury this week. He described the members of that previous grand jury as “skeptical in a good way.” They seemed to have an eye for “bullshit artists,” he said, “which is part of why I think that they were willing to recommend perjury charges for people.” In February, a judge released a portion of the special grand jury’s final report, which revealed that perjury charges were recommended for at least one witness who was believed to have lied under oath during the eight months of testimony. Chidi added, “I’m assuming I’m not one of them.”

Chidi’s father is Nigerian, and his mother is from Massachusetts. “I’m the biracial child of an African immigrant and a working-class white mother,” he told me—adding, with a laugh, “I lived in Hawaii and I’m politically progressive and I am not President of the United States. My family is very disappointed in me.” Chidi served in the Army as a journalist and was a substitute teacher before establishing himself as a reporter focussed on inequality and corruption.

I asked Chidi how he thought his high-profile role as a witness in the election-interference inquiry might affect his career as a journalist. “I’d like to be able to do bigger and better things now,” he told me. “It’s, like, I didn’t just stumble into the room and go, ‘Oh, fake electors!’ I had enough institutional knowledge to get that while other journalists missed it.” Still, when the big networks come calling, he often feels that he’s being patronized. “CNN, MSNBC, and others sort of talk to me like I’m some cub reporter who made out good. I’m, like, ‘I know more shit than any of you! You all suck.’ I had a chip on my shoulder before, and it’s larger now. Maybe I need therapy at this point.”

He acknowledged to me the awkwardness of being a “a loudmouthed journalist brought before a secret grand-jury proceeding” and having to adopt, as he put it, “this very stentorian public persona, as I talk about the gravity of a weighty, constitutionally fraught court case.” He went on, “But this is just goofy. I feel goofy. I look goofy. I’m increasingly self-aware of the schlubby news reporter that I look like.” There’s also the awkwardness of social media. “People online are, like, ‘Go get ’em, George!’ and ‘Put that guy in jail!’ But it’s not my job to put somebody in jail. It’s my job to testify honestly to what I saw.”

Hours after we spoke, he got a call informing him that he would have to testify on Monday, rather than Tuesday, as he’d expected. But he was ready. “I’ve been on the horse before,” he had told me, earlier that day. Getting inside is an ordeal, he’d explained, but, he added, “I have yet to be threatened—I can’t be fucking threatened, but nobody is even trying and I’m starting to feel bad about it. I might take that personally.” Chidi tweeted as he waited to be called, noting that he had tickets to see “Oppenheimer” later that night: “I thought I’d be safe at a 11 p.m. showing,” he wrote. “Fingers crossed.” He also observed Fani Willis walking past him, at one point, “with her shoes off,” and noted that waiting witnesses were served “great plantains” from a nearby Jamaican place. In the end, the jury was ready to vote before every witness was called. A sealed indictment was handed to Judge Robert McBurney around 9 P.M., and the world waited to learn what it contained. “It’s a victory for journalism,” Chidi wrote, of not having to testify again, “because none of the bigger problems of confidentiality or government influence come into play. Perhaps the jury understands that as well. I’ve said all along that they may not need my testimony. But I am present.” ♦

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